As little as 10 years ago, sustainable paper procurement policies were rare – crafted by a few forward-thinking companies that traditionally move ahead of the curve on sustainability issues and companies that were publicly engaged by environmental groups. How times have changed! Paper consumers, especially large commercial print and paper buyers, are now a driving force in the responsible production, use and disposal of printed media, using sustainable paper procurement policies not only as a tool to green their own supply chains, but also to advocate continuous environmental performance improvement throughout the paper life cycle.
In my experience helping companies develop sustainable paper procurement (SPP) policies, the toughest step is usually getting past the inevitable questions from senior management: “Why do we need an SPP policy and how much will it cost to implement it?”
The “why” is simple. As global mega-companies like Walmart, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever drive sustainability deep into their supply chains, demonstrating a commitment to responsible sourcing, production, use and disposal is quickly evolving from an option to a requirement for doing business – including paper-related business. The bottom line: do it now or get left behind.
A sustainable paper procurement policy spells out your company’s commitment and provides an effective way to concisely communicate it to your customers and other stakeholders. It also provides a framework for delivering on that commitment, guiding your company toward continuous environmental performance improvement and encouraging your paper suppliers to take next steps in their own sustainability. The ultimate result: your company contributes not only to its own long-term success, but to real environmental progress!
The “how much” depends on your current practices and programs. When estimating the cost of putting an SPP policy in place, companies are often surprised to find that they are already doing many of the things a policy will entail, like requiring that all their paper comes from legal sources, that they support third-party forest certification and use only paper that is certified or comes from non-controversial sources, and that their suppliers’ facilities have certified environmental management systems in place. An SPP policy validates those initiatives already in place and helps focus them in a way that sheds light on opportunities for improvement.
With that said, SPP policies are designed to encourage continuous performance improvement across the paper life cycle, so long-term credibility requires setting some stretch goals. Some companies include goals in their policy and revise them periodically as appropriate; others develop separate action plans. Any additional financial commitment, of course, depends on how ambitious the goals are and the path a company chooses for achieving them.
To truly benefit the environment, SPP policies must be life cycle-driven, including common elements related to sustainable forest management and certification, resource conservation and environmental protection in the manufacturing process, energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction, waste management, recycling and corporate social responsibility. The specifics, however, can vary widely by company and depend on a variety of factors ranging from an organization’s overall sustainability strategy and supply chain to the grades of paper purchased and end uses. Once a policy with supporting goals is in place, it’s also important to be transparent in reporting progress.
If your company is ready to develop and implement (or update) an SPP there are lots of resources to help you get started. One of the best resources is the World Resources Institute’s Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products (Version 3). Focused on the 10 Things You Should Know about the legal, environmental and social aspects of procurement, this detailed guide is designed specifically for companies that do not have in-house forest and forestry expertise. For a shorter overview, check out Volume 1 of Sappi’s white paper series, Environmentally Responsible Paper Procurement Policies.
Finally, don’t be shy about taking advantage of others’ efforts. Like any process, developing a sustainable paper procurement policy will be a learning experience. Talk with people who’ve actually gone through the process and ask lots of questions. While no two companies or policies are exactly the same, hearing the experience of others may spark ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise considered and may help you avoid missteps that could come back to bite you.
Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.